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Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan ... and Abraham

A cross between "This is Spinal Tap" and "Nunsense," "Altar Boyz" gently pokes fun at Christian pop boy bands.

The hit off-Broadway musical, now running in San Francisco, carefully straddles the line of making audiences laugh without mocking believers, said co-creator and producer Kevin Davenport.

"We've been blessed by priests and supported by Baptists and everything," he said.

Like their secular cousins *NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, the Boyz perform choreographed dance moves and use plenty of hair mousse. But they are far more devoted to God, the Bible and chastity.

In "Rhythm in Me," the guys sing, "God put Mass in English so we'd know what it's about/God put the rhythm in me so I could turn it out."

And in "Something About You," they sing about the girl they want to marry. "There's something about you, baby," they croon. "Girl, you make me want to wait."

Dedicated evangelists, the band members are always trying to get more people into heaven. At the end of every song, they bring out a "soul sensor" to tally up the unsaved.

The show debuted in New York City in 2005 and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best musical off Broadway. With a core fan base of teens and women 35-plus, it attracts a following of "altarholics" who see it over and over.

Davenport, who previously acted in and produced "Forever Plaid," a spoof of 1950s boy groups, said he thought "Altar Boyz" would be a success but never dreamed fans would be attending it as much as 50 or 100 times.

The New York production shows its gratitude by hosting Altarholics Appreciation days, where fans can mingle with cast members. The musical also a maintains a few Web sites, including a MySpace page.

"MySpace is about giving people a way to connect," Davenport said. "When audience members see the show, they can't help but fall in love with these guys and they want to get to know them better."

The show hits a nerve because of its appealing tale of five guys trying to make a success in show business, Davenport said.

"'Altar Boyz' is the traditional American story of the underdog," he said. "You're rooting for them, you want them to succeed."

Group members Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham ("He's Jewish!" the boys sing in the number "We Are the Altar Boyz") leave their small towns in hopes of getting on MTV, even though their chances of achieving their goal are nil.

"It's the band we wish was there," Davenport said.

While the boy-band craze has faded in recent years, Davenport thinks it will never disappear. People have always loved seeing men perform together in a group, from The Beatles to The Four Tops, The Temptations and Bon Jovi.

Davenport and his co-creators, Gary Adler, Michael Patrick Walker, Kevin Del Aguila and Mark Kessler, also worked hard to make the show more fun than preachy.

"The church is supposed to be a place that accepts everybody, where everybody comes," said Davenport, who was raised Catholic. "That's what the church is for these boys. It's not a show about religion. It's a show about five guys from different worlds that under the umbrella of organized religion, find each other and find brotherhood and friendship."

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